Sony Ericsson were smaller in presence but far larger in vision at this year’s Mobile World Congress, prepping only four phones with one clear goal – to leverage the Sony brand and push the XPERIA name even further. With a profitable 2010 and over 9 million Android-powered XPERIAs sold, Sony Ericsson certainly look to be on the comeback trail.
What’s in store for 2011? Well, from Playstation to BRAVIA, Sony Ericsson seems eager to elevate themselves and be mentioned in the same breath as their Japanese parent. Will these new handsets do the trick? Let’s find out.
Sony Ericsson XPERIA Neo – A slim and visually arresting device, the Neo is eager to please as an entertainment all-rounder.
Running on the latest ‘Gingerbread’ version of Android, Sony Ericsson has still tinkered with the platform sufficiently, lifting HTC’s ‘helicopter view’ where a pinch (yes, it supports multi-touch) displays all active home screens, but still feeling fresh and intuitive on the Neo.
The 854 x 480 3.8-inch display is gorgeous, and the Android overlay overkill that was on the X10 has been nicely scaled back for the Neo.
Content management application MediaScape has been nixed, whilst a cleaner variant of the TimeScape social hub is front and centre. It is still a substantial skin over Google’s stock OS, so does take a little while to navigate around with confidence.
The XPERIA Neo’s rich and vivid FWVGA screen – dubbed the ‘Reality Display’ – is said to have a Mobile BRAVIA Engine (as in Sony TVs) to thank for its clarity and crispness. It really does look amazing, particularly coming into its own when watching video.
The 8-megapixel camera has been bigged up too, said to use the Exmor R for mobile sensor (winning awards for its work in Sony snappers) to enable the Neo to take high quality stills and video in low light conditions.
An admittedly impressive demo had us snapping inside what looked like a pitch black box to then display the curios inside in the resultant photos.
Available in a range of colours and set for an end of Q1 launch, the XPERIA Neo seems like a fine enough handset, running the latest of Android and with a nice line in customisation.
The powers of BRAVIA and Exmor technology have been brought to bear for a decent handset experience is clear, but even those features don’t seem quite enough to make the handset a must-have device.
Sony Ericssson XPERIA Pro – Thankfully adhering to the unwritten mobile naming conventions of ‘pro’ meaning ‘with slide-out keyboard,’ the Sony Ericsson XPERIA Pro is a business phone first and foremost.
Sporting eerily identical features to the Neo, the XPERIA Pro adds a keyboard to enhance the device for typing and messaging.
Filled with keyboard-related shortcuts and secure syncing for syncing personal information, as well as Office Suite Pro on-board, this is quite literally Sony Ericsson’s handset for business consumers.
The XPERIA Pro’s keyboard was swift and sturdy sliding out and adds very little heft to the device over the Neo, whilst the UI immediately shifted to accommodate the landscape layout.
In that, it’s a little soulless in execution, providing the necessary features, but lacking in that extra something to make it a must-have handset.
Both the XPERIA Neo and Pro have echoes of the Sony Ericsson Vivaz and Vivaz Pro – fair phones both, but without a massive amount to offer beyond the alluring form factor. Oh, and they ran on Symbian…not too well on it either.
They tick the boxes nonetheless, and round out Sony Ericsson’s XPERIA range into high-end entertainment and business territory.
Sony Ericsson XPERIA Arc – First revealed at CES, the XPERIA Arc was the first Sony Ericsson handset to embark upon this new stylistic journey for 2011 – a super-waif smartphone at 8.7mm, touting it’s imaging and multimedia credentials all the way.
Running Android 2.3, rocking an 8.1-megapixel camera and boasting high-end features with a high concept concave look, the Sony Ericsson XPERIA Arc is every inch the head-turner.
It’s just as pretty in the flesh, the phone is largely identical once again to the two above, a 1Ghz processor with a slick Sony user interface but going that bit further in offering a huge 4.2-inch Reality Display.
Of the three, the Arc seems to have the strongest voice in terms of eye-catching design, and seems the most attractive as a consequence. Due out in Q1, expect this one to really have the ‘wow’ factor upon release.
Sony Ericsson XPERIA Play – Apparently six years in the making, the Playstation Phone that gaming fans have been waiting for has finally been unveiled, but is it the one they wanted?
An Android device at its heart, the XPERIA Play shared much with the three other handsets on the Sony Ericsson booth, running on Gingerbread and with a 4-inch touch display. The 5-megapixel camera is pretty servicable, whilst a 1GHz Qualcomm processor beats inside the Play (rather less than we were hoping for a mobile gaming rig), and the 8GB of internal memory is expandable to 32GB via microSD if you want to have a real games library on the go.
A quick flick of the fingers and a full joypad slides out from behind the display, revealing a d-pad as well as circular virtual sliders to emulate the sticks on a real controller, and those ever familiar Playstation buttons.
Even the L and R shoulders are present (although somewhat smaller and shinier) on the XPERIA Play, making it look rather like the PSP Go in terms of thumb-friendly slider design. Actually, speaking of thumbs…
Let’s get to the meat, you want to know about games. The XPERIA Play is actually ‘Playstation Certified,’ when pushed a representative told me that meant the hardware itself was created in close conjunction with Sony Japan.
So this means that despite the slide out keypad and controls…it’s not actually a Playstation device with regards to innards, and as such can’t play PSP games nor can it talk to your Playstation 3.
Bit of a missed opportunity, or is Sony still unwilling to go ‘all the way’ with a PSPhone?
The XPERIA Play does have access to the forthcoming Playstation Suite, an online portal that will enable fans of Sony’s stuff to buy old PS1 games and the like.
Apparently it needs a minimum of Android 2.3 to work (which explained the smell of Gingerbread wafting around the booth), but it is also not dependent on particular hardware…which means any updated Android device will likely have the very same keys to Sony’s closet of classic titles.
So…what makes it so special as a gaming phone? Well, physical controls are a real antidote after playing the usual touch-driven time sinks, having a proper gamepad rather than tilting or tapping on the screen saw us drifting around corners and overtaking rivals on Gameloft’s Asphalt 6 in moments.
Admittedly, the games ran pretty well, the display lends a richness to the on-screen proceedings, and it does feel like playing a game on a dedicated device simply due to the added ease of real controls.
The 50-odd games said to be around at launch did all sound rather familiar however, with top flight mobile publishers like Glu and EA Mobile bringing souped-up versions of famous titles like the Sims 3 and Splinter Cell to the device.
Adding support for the XPERIA Play’s physical controls, as well as added features like local multiplayer for FIFA ’10 (what, no 2011 ediiton?) Soccer show that mobile developers are at least trying to spice up currently available games to work with the XPERIA Play.
Bona fide XPERIA Play-exclusive titles were thin on the ground, with the only one announced at the time being a sequel to Dungeon Defenders, an tower defence hybrid actioner currently available on iOS and Android devices…
Our only concern is that right now, there is nothing aside from the controls marking the Sony Ericsson XPERIA Play aside from any other Android phone out right now.
The games will be the same as those on Android Market, playing largely identically due to similar smartphone specs, with the only unique feature being physical controls, which not all titles will support.
At present, despite Sony Computer Entertainment CEO Kaz Hirai being front row for the handset’s launch on Sunday night, it feels like they are still are not truly getting behind Sony Ericsson’s XPERIA Play as the Playstation Phone we all hailed it to be.
The Play is very much an XPERIA Android phone with vastly improved game controls, rather than a luxury dedicated gaming device.
It doesn’t replace – or even slightly overlap with – the existing PSP’s functionality, and with Sony Japan busy working on the next real Playstation Portable, it seems like the XPERIA Play might find it tough to reach that high score.
Even with a vastly more powerful device and exclusive installments to the massive God of War and Metal Gear franchises, Sony’s Playstation Portable has found it tough to compete with the cute and casual charms of Nintendo’s DS, and more recently the app avalanche on the iPhone.
The XPERIA Play is attempting to do it without either the processing grunt or the must-have games.
Perhaps the youth market will see an appeal in a mobile device that doubles as their gaming platform, but interest to older hardcore gamers will be limited as their attention shifts to Sony’s exciting NGP (Next Generation Portable).
The XPERIA brand went from a luxury aspirational name in the X1 and even the X10 to an extent, but has percolated through the entire range to become synonymous with their range of Android smartphones.
The four handsets on Sony Ericsson’s booth all have definitely have looks – the Arc is gorgeous and the Play somewhat unique – but it feels like the XPERIA brand needs that little bit of oomph and innovation beyond leveraging the BRAVIA and Playstation names to really be successful in 2011.
It’s great to see that the collaboration between Sony Japan and the mobile offshoot is continuing to grow, and that Sony Ericsson seem focused on quality (and the US market judging by the Play launch strategy with Verizon) rather than their earlier scattergun approach of releasing a flood of identikit Walkman phones.
That being said, even a hint of a refresh of their mid-range selection would not have been premature at MWC. An X10 mini follow-up would sell like warm confectioneries.
Oh, and one more thing… Sony Ericsson, where’s your tablet at?
UPDATE: There it is!